Thursday, December 01, 2022

Punda amechoka

On the 27th August of 2010, after more than twenty years of agitation, state-sponsored violence, political chicanery and constitutional lawfare, Kenya promulgated a new constitution. From the Ufungamano House Initiative, to the Ghai Commission to the Committee of Experts, Kenyans were determined to remake the constitutional framework to recognise and respect the will of the people. It was not our wish to repackage an avaricious political class with new titles and new offices. It is for this reason that we must acknowledge the tragic out-of-time-ness of Raila Odinga's determined push for political relevance by seeking a new government sinecure in the form of Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition courtesy of a BBI-like constitutional amendment.

Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga attempted to pull the wool over Kenyans' eyes with the Building Bridges Initiative that suffered catastrophic blows from the Judiciary. Even with the weak-toast face-saving by the Supreme Court, BBI was not supported, could not be supported, by the people. Its proposals should have received far better critical review, but because of the underhanded way that the entire enterprise was undertaken, only the politicians who stood to gain invested time, energy and scarce public resources to achieving the objects of BBI, including the creation of new offices designed, it seemed, solely to accommodate unsuccessful election candidates.

Mr Odinga lost the 2022 general election by repeating the same mistakes that were made when prosecuting the BBI programmes. But, I fear, he has not taken any lessons from his recent string of losses. He is banking on Kenyans' nostalgic fondness for his political battles of the past, especially the central role he played in agitating for a new constitution. Many Kenyans hold him in awe for what he did on Saba Saba and though they found it distasteful later on, they were appreciative of the rapprochement with Baba Moi that permitted him to merge his party with Kanu and his taking a cabinet position in government. His stint as Mwai Kibaki's Prime Minister was useful in dealing with the political reality of the presidential election that was stolen from him. When he attempted a similar gambit via the handshake with Uhuru Kenyatta, he failed and failed badly.

The ground has shifted significantly since 2008. There are fewer and fewer Kenyans who are willing to accommodate bloat in the senior ranks of the Government. Not in the middle of an unemployment crisis and famine. The Kenyans who were so optimistic in January 2003 have been browbeaten by relentless stories of senior politicians making out like bandits while the people they govern subsist on empty promises of development, free public services and social security for all. Lightning does not strike twice n a bottle and it is why BBI was fiasco and whatever accommodations Mr Odinga attempts with President Ruth will suffer the same ignominious fate.

Only politicians want a Prime Minister. Most Kenyans don't. Certainly, young Kenyans are only concerned about the savage cost of living. They want jobs that guarantee a comfortable life. They want social services that grant them the opportunity to found their own families and watch their children thrive and flourish. They are not interested in sustaining the exorbitant lifestyles of over-the-hill failed politicians. In the words of Ekuru Aukot, "Punda amechoka."

Monday, November 28, 2022

A revolution's gonna come

What Baba Moi had began with Special Branch torture chambers, Emilio achieved with co-option and widespread pork-barrel politics. What Uhuru and, now, Ulliam inherited was a civil society that is not just a pale shadow of its 19980s and 1990s self, but one that is utterly unable to look itself in the mirror with pride. What we used to know as civil society, especially the section that acted as the real check and balance to the institutions of the State, is a deeply conflicted sector that is today renown for the contortions it engages in to preserve its privileges, whether from foreign influence peddlers or the State itself.

Take the recent policy declarations by the Government regarding public funding for high education institutions, the re-introduction of the shamba system in forest lands, the "comprehensive" review of the competency-based curriculum for basic education, and the plan to plant 5 billion trees in 5 years. The public discussion of these issues has not been led by well-reasoned arguments from surviving members of the Third Sector but by vested political interests looking to influence the outcome not for the good of the people but in order to demonstrate ones political capital and how it can be wielded to support or undermine the still-nascent government of the day.

No one demonstrates the depths to which civil society has fallen than the Robert Mugabe of the Human Rights Civil Society. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he and his partners played a leading role, together with the Law Society and ministers of faith like Henry Okullu, David Gitari and Ndingi Mwana a' Nzeki, to hold the Government to account when Parliament failed to do so. They articulated the issues that affected our day to day lives with clarity and passion and when they aligned themselves with Opposition politicians, it was with wariness and skepticism, not with their begging bowls out as is the case today. Civil society stalwarts were notable for the personal sacrifices they made, not the longevity of their tenures at the pinnacle of civil society organisations.

With the repeal of Section 2A of the repealed constitution, the appointment of the Ghai Commission and the promulgation of a new constitution under the tutelage of Nzamba Kitonga's Committee of Experts, civil society should have evolved, maintaining a healthy skepticism of the State, its institutions and its officers, while championing the needs of the people in a changed environment, including publicly-funded universal education upto university, publicly-funded universal health services (even in the case of specialised care for chronic diseases), and enhanced food and nutrition security without undermining indigenous and traditional farming systems. Instead, civil society has evolved into a cartel of well-fed morbidly obese activists who viciously compete with each other to suckle at the National Treasury's teat alongside parliamentarians and avaricious county nawabs.

The social media musings and ravings of the Robert Mugabe of the Human Rights Civil Society are the nadir of the fall of the civil society. The way he has abased himself in service of one over-the-hill politician would only be shocking if he were alone. One of his civil society contemporaries describes himself as a political whore, only interested in his political ends, regardless of whether he is supping with the devil with a long spoon or being spoon-fed. The less said about the ministers of faith, the better, because their fall from glory has denied the people they minister to a sanctuary where their tales of suffering always received a sympathetic hearing.

Young people have always been the engines of change. But they can only change things f the things they need to imagine a different way of doing things are available to them, under the tutelage of mentors who still have a passion for doing the right thing. But our schools and institutions of higher learning are moribund, if not dead. Our news media and commentariat is only interested in belly rubs from presidents, prime ministers and parliamentarians. Our places of worship have become dens of thieves where the faithful are separated from their earnings in the name tithing, as the church of Christ withers and dies. Even playing fields, where social connections are made between children and young people from diverse backgrounds have been stolen and turned into hideous "apartments" or, worse, money-laundering enterprises masquerading as shopping malls.

When the revolution comes - we can't carry on as we are without inviting the wrath of young people - it will be a thing to behold, as all revolutions inevitably are.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Chaos as a governing principle

We have so many things that can kill us in this country. Being in this country you are a candidate for death. [Audience laughs] And because they're so many things competing for death, there's nothing wrong in adding GMO to that list. That is why we have deliberately decided to allow GMOs into this country. - Moses Kuria

The long tail of the Moism that was nurtured over twenty-four years continues to affect us in deeply unsettling and inhumane ways. Many praise the ten years of Kibakinomics and completely ignore the fact that despite performance contracting, in reality, Mr Kibaki did little to reverse the ill effects of a hollowed-out public service. Mr Kibaki's successor simply chose to throw good money after bad and when that didn't work, hand over the whole kit and caboodle to the army to sort out. It didn't work either. Mr Kuria is the personification of thirty-four years of civil service sabotage by presidents, parliamentarians, ministers of government and sundry ne'er-do-wells with such deeply embedded conflicts of interest it is a wonder they were able to achieve anything at all.

There is nothing humorous about admitting that the government you serve, and have served for a decade, has failed in its mandate to protect its peoples. There is no humour in admitting that regardless of the scientific question marks, the government you now serve intends to move forward with the introduction of genetic technologies whose benefits remain wholly unexplored, and the research into its negative effects are buried in layers of global money interests. But that is where we are today.

Governing is not easy. You must make life-or-death decisions on dozens of sensitive matters with little current information or resources, and in the face of external risks that you can neither see nor predict, all the while ensuring that the lights stay on and the masses don't set your house on fire. In order to make the best decisions possible in the circumstances, you need a plan. Such a plan must be based on a policy that analyses the issues, identifies the people capable of implementing the policy, mobilising the money needed for it, and your own skills in persuading your rivals and enemies to go along with the plan. You cannot make good decisions if all you're doing is flying by the seat of your pants, making reckless statements on the fly, and inviting ridicule and contempt while at it. You may posses the intellectual heft of an Einstein, but it is meaningless if that intellect is tethered to an overweening narcissistic desire to PWN your rivals.

President Moi predicted that Kanu would reign for a hundred years. He couldn't have known that Kanu, the political party, would exist only as a caricature or that Kanuism and Maoism would replace it. The core elements of Moist and Kanuism included cults of personality, self-interest over public interest, incompetence camouflaged by cruelty and sarcasm, wastage of public resources in pursuit of white elephants, and an inability to accept that one may not know enough about any subject matter. It is still early days with the new regime, but the signs don't point in an encouraging direction. Right from the moment a declaration on the shamba system was made, it has been one flip-flopping policy announcement after another.

Is chaos their intended objective?

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The camouflage of solutionism

I once said this about the Ukweli Party of Kenya: The Ukweli Party isn't unique in this regard. It is merely one more piece of evidence that not even civil society stalwarts have broken from he neoliberalism that many claim to challenge. Instead of building a true political party, supported by its members, active in the community, its founders bought a briefcase, slapped a made-in-Kenya label on it, identified a few vocal civil society faces to stand in a few visible parliamentary elections, and flamed out without a whimper. No one can even remember its officials from 2017.

I was trying, badly, to make the point that solutionism - the overweening narcissism that defines the Third Sector - has so ingrained itself in the political discourse of this country that every political messiah believes that only he can save Kenya and for him to save Kenya, he must register his own political party without, crucially, having the patience to actually build a political movement that a party may represent. In the just-ended general election, it was alleged that because Kenyan political parties are ideology-free zones, it explained voter apathy and a below-average voter turnout, especially in the presidential election. Respectfully, I think this theory, and its corollaries, are horseshit.

The Registrar of Political Parties' records indicate that Kenya has over eighty registered political parties. I would be shocked if Kenyans were able to name ten. Azimio One Kenya Alliance had over twenty constituent parties. I'd be surprised if we could name five. The National Super Alliance that fronted Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi in 2017 remains but an ephemeral image in the mind of a dedicated few while the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy that fronted Raila Odinga and Kilonzo Musyoka in 2013, has been erased from memory. None of the coalitions, from CORD to NASA to Azimio had done the necessary work of building a political movement to promote the political goals of a people; they were mere reflections of the political ambitions of one man who has unsuccessfully sought ultimate political power since 1997.

This is not to say that The National Alliance, the Jubilee Party of Kenya, or Kenya Kwanza, reflect the ideals of a political movement. The victories of their presidential candidates has nothing to do with ideological co-operation among the coalitions' members; merely the consequences of thirty years of ethnic engineering designed to win elections without building robust political institutions.

Ukweli Party attempted to swim in this cesspool. It, and similar also-ran political outfits long since dumped in the rubbish bin of history, are a reflection that civil society campaigners have abandoned the hard graft of political institution-building, for the quick-wins language of their "donors" and "partners". It is a powerpoint approach to political re-engineering: boardrooms full of committed activists who have given up on the outside world who have decided to "do something" and that something, it turns out, is to register a political party, spend a bunch of money of search-engine optimisation and similar internet dark works, pay for thousands of t-shirts, shukas and umbrellas, traverse select large towns on the backs of semi-trailers blasting Amapiano and Sauti Sol out of over-priced rented PA systems and accompanied by skimpily-clad "youth" who have been paid to gyrate suggestively to the quite-often incomprehensible music, without actually engaging with the people they intend to lead on the political questions they want addressed: unemployment, poor educational outcomes, affordable housing and healthcare, people-based policing, food security and human dignity.

Of course the law on political parties is badly written. It makes it near-impossible for upstarts like the Ukweli Party to mobilise on a national scale before registration. But that is only part of the challenge. The other part is that the sponsors of the Ukweli Party, like their other failed counterparts, did not start out with a full deck to begin with. There is no evidence that outside of the Nairobi enclave where the party emerged, Ukweli Party had representatives (or even a poster) in places like Kargi in Marsabit, Rodi Kopany in Kisumu, Matuu in Kitui, Rongai in Nakuru, Sacho in Baringo or Hola in Tana River. It existed solely in the briefcase being its certificate of registration and it failed in its mission because voters are not binders of documents to be carted about by earnest-but-misguided activists.

One piece of proof that these outfits are meaningless has to do with the aftermath of general elections. None of them, not even the parties or coalitions that successfully send candidates to State House, Parliament and county assemblies, ever hold party post-mortems to interrogate their performance in the general election or to address the legislative and policy agenda of the party for adoption by the parties' general membership. The past two weeks has witnessed parliamentary party group meetings only, as if the coalition or political parties are composed solely of elected representatives. The people, represented by the elected politicians, have already faded from public view, and their political views carry as much weight as a puff of smoke. It is why when parties like Ukweli flame out at the polls, they begin the rapid process of fading from public view. They were never intended to be real political parties but merely vehicles for a few men and women to stick their noses in the trough put out by the National Treasury for the lucky few, in the parlance of one of Ukweli's loudest stalwarts, MPigs.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Fifth is here - I have thoughts

The inauguration of the fifth is nigh so maybe things are far enough removed from the ruling of the Supreme Court in the presidential election petition that affirmed the victory of William Ruto that we can say a few things that may or may not matter. In my opinion, many of the pundits seemed to have infused the presidential election petition with supernatural powers, capable of transmuting the base metal of missing votes into the gold of a presidential election victory for Raila Odinga. Of course, this did not come to pass and so, they have now turned to parsing the language of the judges of the Supreme Court, especially that tart remarks about "hot air" and "wild goose chase" in respect of some of the lawyers in the case.

I take the position that though a presidential election is important, it is not so important as to form the foundation for overturning courtroom principles, especially the principles relating to standards of proof. I am not one of the lawyers who will claim with any form of credibility that the electoral commission was the paragon of virtue hen it came to the conduct of the presidential election. The antics of the Cherera Rebels and the violence at Bomas of Kenya are proof positive that the commission made many mistakes.

But notwithstanding the mistakes by the commission, the threats, intimidation and violence that the commission and its officials faced were substantial and we must acknowledge that the commission did a better-than-expected job in light of this. In short, the commission's performance in the presidential election as a mixed bag.

What many of us have missed in the sturm und drang of the presidential election petition is the seismic shift in political sensibilities witnessed in this general election. It used to be that the general election was defined by the presidential election, with the down-ticket races struggling to elicit any form of sustained interest. In 2022, the majority of political passions were expended in county elections, especially the election of governors and deputy governors. The issues of development have been devolved to such an extent that it matters a lot who is elected as a governor or deputy governor and whether or not the candidate has a keen understanding of the developmental needs of the people whose votes he is seeking at the grassroots level. The presidency, with its deeply entrenched reputation for theft, looting, grand graft and human rights abuses, is slowly receding in importance and one day, if devolution is not irreparably sabotaged, Kenyans will pay more attention to who is in charge of the county government than the presidency.

We have a sense of this by how ho-hum the presidential election campaigns were. Even with the active intervention of the incumbent president, large swathes of the senior ranks of the civil service, the national security establishment, the national corporate media, and leading figures of civil society, including leading lights of the Second Liberation, the leading candidates barely elicited enough passion to make the presidential election an election o remember. Indeed, it was plain that the favoured candidate could not persuade the people who were being manipulated to vote for him to actually vote for him in such numbers as to be significant.

It is rumoured that the national security establishment fed the favoured campaign with enough bullshit as to blind them to the goings on in the ground. The promise that "the Mountain is with Raila" came a cropper; even with the sensational allegations made in court, it is plenty plain that the years that the president-elect had spent in the Mountain had paid off in spades.

I have no sympathy for the losing presidential candidates. I especially loathe the opportunistic preacher-lawyer and the pro-weed candidates for their inability to transform their presidential election campaigns into principled articulation of hard truths about the body politic. Obviously, the lack of credible corporate media coverage hamstrung them on the messages that they could propagate but the fact that they didn't even try - dry, humourless, un-thoughtful manifestos were the nadir - is an indictment of them, and us, and a painful revelation of how far we have fallen when it comes to public discourse.

I also loathe the way in which the favoured presidential candidate lost the election. He surrounded himself with highly motivated charlatans who had no interest in his victory per se but were interested in electing a puppet they could control long into the future. His campaign's spokesman did everything in his power to paint himself as the incarnation of the late Sharif Nassir, Kihika Kimani and Kariuki Chotara, albeit with a law degree and multiple post-graduate degrees to boot. He spouted the most regressive and fatuous shit that it took great effort to remember that he is a professor of law. When the annals of history are written about this phase in Kenya's constitutional development, this presidential election and its dramatis personae will feature strongly in the "lessons learned" section, with grim warning for future populist demagogues and political opportunists of every shade.

I have no idea how the fifth will rule - he intends t rule, make no mistake. He has managed to maintain a high degree of information security thus far; few people know anything about the inner workings of his transition team. There are few leaks about the shape and form of his Cabinet; who he intends to nominate to senior ranks ion the civil service; how much leash he intends to give to State organs such as KRA, the National Police Service, the EACC and the DPP. I hope you are not one of the naive people who think that constitutional commissions and. independent offices are really, truly independent. In any case, Tuesday, 13th September, beckons. Let us hear what the new rais will say on the day.

Monday, August 22, 2022

It isn't all Mr Chebukati's fault

Many things can be true simultaneously. Chocolate is awesome; chocolate milk is an abomination. Pumpkin soup is food for the soul; malenge is the Almighty's punishment for bringing into the world things like Twitter. Political parties are the weak link in the political process; political parties must be strengthened in order to strengthen democratic norms. The solution for weak political parties is a combination of better statutory regulation and greater engagement by voters and politicians alike.

Many political party apparatchiks are bad at their jobs. They encourage the worst instincts of their political benefactors, who are quite often the owners of the briefcases in which the political parties are kept. The illiberalism experienced in Kenya's political institutions is but a manifestation of the illiberalism endemic in political parties. Whether it is on the question of gender representation or internal democratic processes, none of Kenya's parties is as liberal as they claim to be or demand of their rivals.

It is for this reason that the claim by the likes of Mr Makau Mutua accusing Mr Wafula Chebukati of dictatorial tendencies rings hollow. For sure Mr Chebukati has not conducted the affairs of the election commission during the presidential election of 2022 in a transparent or consultative manner. But he is only a reflection of the standards established and promoted by the presidential candidates he was supposed to shepherd to the end of the election period.

For example, when Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance selected Ms Gladys Wanga as its candidate in the Homa Bay gubernatorial election, it was done in the face of opposition of other candidates in the party. When the United Democratic Alliance nominated Mr Rigathi Gachagua, it was in direct contradiction of the pledge made by its presidential candidate that the party would nominate a woman as his running mate. When the Roots Party of Kenya presidential candidate threw his weight behind the Azimio presidential candidate on the eve of the general election, he did so without consulting his running mate who had made personal sacrifices to stand with him in the general election. It is almost certain that he did not consult the rank and file of his political party. No one even knows who the senior members of the Agano Party of Kenya are given the prominence given to its leader. It'll take nifty googling to even recall the name of his running mate in the presidential election.

The same is reflected in all political parties. The effect of sun illiberalism are plain to see. Roads, ports and bridges built without consultation., transparency or accountability. Educational policies implemented without due regard to the real-world harm many of them cause to young and vulnerable Kenyans. Economic programmes are implemented without addressing the long-term effects of unsustainable public debt policies on the provision of public goods and services to the greatest number of Kenyans at the lowest cost.

Mr Mutua and his counterparts in the other political parties are largely responsible for entrenching the illiberal impunity that they cavil against in the pages of Kenya's tabloids. They should not be allowed to get away with it. They must be held to account for their part in the dysfunction in public institutions. Though they may have played leading roles in shattering the KANU hold on public affairs, they cannot be allowed to get away with entrenching KANUism in the political parties they founded or joined. If they are going to accuse the likes of Mr Chebukati of dictatorial tendencies, they must admit, publicly, that they had a hand in encouraging Mr Chebukati to see himself as Julius Caesar after the Roman general crossed the Rubicon with his army.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Umbrellas, fans and tonnes of shit

The arguments that are being fashioned in aid of the challenge in the Supreme Court against the presidential election result include claims that the process was manifestly unjust. This particular argument has been advanced by men and women with a deeply vested interest in a ruling of the Supreme Court that reverses the election. I fear that the arguments will not be sufficient.

It is possible to make the case that the election to the Houses of Parliament, Governors’ mansions and county assemblies were mostly above board. It is possible to make the case that the election commission did a bang up job and that few, if any, of the elections of members of the National Assembly, senate, county assembly or county executive will be reversed because the process employed in the elections worked without a hitch but that the presidential election was marred the moment polling stations reported their results, county tallying centres uploaded their Forms 34B and the chairperson tallied, verified and announced the presidential election result.

The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have raised the bar on the standard of proof needed to impeach a presidential election. If the court agrees with the allegations of the petitioner, together with the petitioner’s reliance on the allegations by the majority of the commissioners about the chairman’s behaviour, then the election will be annulled and a fresh election will have to be conducted. The court will have to accept the argument that the commission did not verify and tally the result and, therefore, the chairman should not have announced the results he did. One reason to agree with the petitioner will have to be about meanings of terms: “commission”, “verify”, “tally”, “business of the commission”, and so on and so forth.

The respondents will have to defend their actions, especially the chairman of the commission’s decision to sideline the other commissioners when verifying, tallying and announcing the results. He will have history on his side. Moi, in 2002, tried to engineer a favourable election commission, delaying the reappointment of Messrs Kivuitu and Co. His project lost resoundingly in the presidential election. Kwai Kibaki pulled the same trick in 2007. It ended in an orgy of violence that led to the indictment of his successor and his successor’s deputy at the International Criminal Court. The incumbent delayed the appointment of commissioners for so long that it undermined the commission’s preparations for the 2022 general election.

Whatever the case, no one will emerge from the presidential petition smelling of roses. Kenyan presidential politics has the ability to stink up the political and judicial process in such a way that public confidence in public institutions is seriously undermined. The next fourteen days will be a study in who had an umbrella when the shit hit the fan, and who enjoyed rolling about in the muck.